After three months of not kicking a ball in anger, Reading returned to action at the Madejski Stadium yesterday, but the Royals could only draw 1-1 against Stoke.
Lucas Joao scored on his return to the team, getting on the end of Yakou Meite’s cross to put his side in front with a sweeping finish into the bottom left corner inside seven minutes. Nick Powell netted on his second consecutive visit to the Madejski, pulling the Potters level in second-half stoppage time as Reading failed to clear a corner.
Here are five things we learnt from the match.
Sitting back and switching off cost Reading dear
Reading were good value for their lead in the first half and really should have been out of sight. Lucas Joao almost had a second goal as he just missed Michael Olise’s cross, while John Swift’s free kick hit the crossbar after the interval. However, not pushing for the second goal as the game wore on meant Mark Bowen’s side went away with one point rather than three.
It’s not the first time that this has happened. The games against Hull (H) and Cardiff (A) spring to mind, when Reading have allowed the opposition to get back into the game, resulting in teams nicking a point. Even in the victories against Fulham and QPR this season, Reading have tended to sit back late in the game. Thanks to Rafael, these matches ended with the Royals winning and not drawing.
Stoke’s goal gets more laughable every time I watch it. Firstly, Swift loses his man which allows James Chester to get ahead of him. Nobody then challenges Powell for the second ball which allows him to score. As Mark Bowen said post-match, you can’t rely on your centre backs to bail you out every time.
It is shocking defending for a team that is hanging on to a one goal lead deep into added on time. Thankfully, Reading aren’t in a relegation battle this season or that could have been very costly.
Michael Olise looks a very exciting player
Since making his debut against Leeds United last season, Olise has got better with every game and with more experience. He looks so comfortable in possession and has the odd trick up his sleeve. The 18-year-old nearly got on the scoresheet against Stoke with a driving effort from outside the box and almost set up Joao for a second goal with a brilliant cross.
With more game time, Olise will hopefully deliver performances that make him one of the first players on Bowen’s team sheet. Reading’s financial power in the transfer market will probably be limited in the summer, so it will be vital to keep hold of talented young players like Olise.
The defensive shape looked good
Except for that one costly lapse in concentration at the end and Stoke hitting the woodwork in the second half, Reading looked very sound defensively. After the Royals went in front, Stoke had a ten-minute spell of possession where they tried to get themselves back into the game.
However, apart from Tom Ince having a tame effort saved by Rafael, the Potters rarely looked like scoring, which makes the result even more frustrating. It is though good to see that Reading have come back from the enforced break looking a like a more solid side. This should put them in good stead with tricky looking fixtures against Derby and Brentford coming up.
Reading missed Lucas Joao when he went off injured
Right from the start, Stoke really struggled to cope with Joao’s physicality and pace. By opening the scoring, it means that the striker has been directly involved in a goal every 86.5 minutes he has played for Reading (five goals and two assists) since 30 November. It is therefore no surprise that the Royals struggled to get into the final third once he was forced off injured.
His replacement George Puscas looked well off the pace and struggled to get his team up the pitch, with the Romanian only winning 25% of his aerial duels. The formation clearly didn’t suite Puscas, which meant the Royals rarely had an effort on goal after half-time.
This is disappointing considering that before the lockdown, he was beginning to look like the player that Reading fans were expecting when he signed. The 24-year-old was a real handful in the 3-1 win over Birmingham with his hold up play and energy. With Joao now likely to be unavailable for the next few weeks, Puscas will need to be relied upon once again.
A surreal experience that fans need to get used to
Football is back, but not as we know it.
It was surreal to see an empty Madejski Stadium play host to a Championship fixture, with just the media and other officials being allowed in. Seeing cardboard cut outs of supporters and flags being dotted around the ground certainly helped the experience though.
However, the artificial crowd noise certainly did not. I’ve been watching games from La Liga and the German Bundesliga recently, and to a certain extent it’s worked - it makes the watching the matches so much better. Unfortunately, that could not be said of the artificial crowd noise that Reading had yesterday.
It just sounded like a wall of noise rather than chants that have been sung so memorably from all corners of the Madejski Stadium in the past. Perhaps it would be better to have no artificial crowd noise at all and let fans enjoy the natural sound from football’s new normality.